Expectations were high late last year that passage of a new inspection law would mean energetic reform and quick establishment of a trust-worthy road monitoring system for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH).
Instead, a year after the law, Amer Zilić, 42, the federal inspector, has yet to actually look at a single road.
The man who is the only person authorized to find and diagnose damage on the major roads in Federation has spent the past year doing clerking duties in a Mostar office of the Federation Ministry of Traffic and Communications.
No one, in fact, seems to have been looking over the 1,963 kilometers of state roads of FBiH since late 2005, by some reckoning the worst on the continent. No one banned unsafe cars from the roads and no one has requested repairs or runs checks of road conditions. No one has supervised the work of road contractors.
Inspections have been halted altogether while federation politicians have been nearly a year checking the new inspection law against the country’s Constitution and consolidating 136 inspectors from 10 areas under the single roof of a federal inspectorate.
Up until 2005, Zilić and three colleagues in the Federation Ministry of Traffic and Communications monitored the main roads in FBiH.
Nedžad Branković, the Minister of Traffic and Communications, took away their official ID’s, vehicles, archives, keys, and official documentation last year. Even though everybody expected that the pause in inspections would last about a month, forming of the new inspectorate took more than a year.
‘I have to start from zero now. I was in the loop and now I have to start from scratch’ said Zilić, a six-year veteran of traffic inspection.
According to him, the lull in inspections has been dangerous.
During 2005, traffic inspectors submitted 208 misdemeanor charges against drivers. They removed 110 run-down vehicles from traffic, ticketed 54 drivers and made five requests for repair of damaged roads.
Zilić is particularly proud of his role getting the Ivan ridge route near Konjic, one of the most traveled roads in BiH repaired two years ago.
‘10,000 KM was spent to fix it, but it increased the safety of people’ says Zilić.
Ibro Tirak, the acting director of the Federation Administration for Inspection, said traffic inspectors never stopped working.
‘Everybody worked a little bit on old cases’ says Tirak. According to him, traffic inspectors can do a whole lot in the office and they don’t always need to go in the field.
‘From Sarajevo to Mostar, the road is always the same’ Tirak said.
Zilić, however, said that without going out into the field, he doesn’t know what is happening.
Dane Drašković, the road inspector for the Republika Srpska (RS) said it was frightening to think about what might have happened during the year while none of his colleagues in the federation were working in the field.
‘It is certain that companies charged with road maintenance were relaxed in that period, because there wasn’t anyone to supervise them, send them to courts and force them to work’ he said.
According to him, inspectors in RS went through a similar reorganization, but it took just three months to pass the RS law, form the inspectorate and bring all inspectors under a single roof.
‘During those three months, we acted preventively and warned about dangers’ says Drašković. He added that they had no authority to issue tickets or submit charges.
Tirak said restructuring was easier to introduce in the RS where there is a single government. Tirak said the inspection reform in FBiH was held up first when Niko Lozančić, the federation president, refused to sign the new bill and then when he submitted a request to the Constitutional Court to review it.
‘This is a big reform. For the first time since the country of BiH exists, all inspections are in a same place and it is unjustified for it having had to take this long’ said Tirak. But he added, ‘what can I do to the president of the Federation. He has the authority.’
Still, he thinks the idle inspectors are blowing things out of proportion.
‘You know, they give themselves a lot of importance. When you publish a tender for patching the road, there’s an oversight body on the tender. The inspector doesn’t do that’ says Tirak. He went on to say that the inspector would show up after the work is done to inspect it.
Branković feels no guilt about the yearlong halt in inspections. He said his actions were ‘in accordance with law’ and besides that, colleagues from the cantonal level took over the work of federation inspectors.
However, Sarajevo Canton inspectors Velid Mustafić and Nermin Meholjić told the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) that they did not do the work of FBiH inspectors.
Not a single other federation minister who was affected by the inspection consolidation acted in the same way as Branković and stripped inspectors of authority to work. Other inspectorates kept working while the politicians and lawyers worked on the law.
Branković said he did not want to comment actions of colleagues. Esad Osmanbegović, a secretary in his ministry thinks that the other ministers made a mistake.
‘Have them justify their legality before higher offices’ says Osmanbegović.
He claims that the Ministry of Traffic and Communications consulted with the experts from FBiH Government’s Legislation Office whose job involves giving opinions on laws. After this they issued a decision which halted the work of traffic inspectors.
‘That year passed’ said Branković. He said that all problems are now solved, and everyone is back working.
Tirak also said there would be a new director and new offices.
However, Zilić and his colleagues will feel little effects of the reform if they don’t get new equipment. He said that a government car, essential in his work, is available to him only twice a month.
‘I have to stop at least 30 times from Mostar to Tuzla, to determine what is wrong. I have to get into the duct, see if it’s cleaned. I can’t do that by bus’ says Zilić.
This project was completed with financial assistance from the Open Society Fund BiH